RSO looks ahead after difficult season of navigating the pandemic

The Regina Symphony Orchestra is focused on next season after a challenging return amid the COVID pandemic.

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The Regina Symphony Orchestra is trying to find its rhythm despite constant disruptions.

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Having completed its first full season amid the pandemic, RSO is moving forward in the wake of a difficult year that saw attendance fall despite the organization’s best efforts to make adjustments on the fly.

“I don’t mind telling you it was a huge struggle,” said music director and conductor Gordon Gerrard. “We set out this past season expecting smaller crowds but they were far smaller than we had ever hoped. There was a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel when we did Beethoven Nine and Pink Floyd (at the end). Those were actually bigger (crowds) than some of the ones we would have had pre-COVID.”

Gerrard hopes to carry that momentum into next season, beginning in September.

“I talk to lots of folks who are just now going to their first event and feeling like they’re ready to get out and do it,” he said. “We’re starting to see that things are calming down, so I’m optimistic for next year.”

It’s a welcome change after being forced to sit idle for the better part of two years. RSO made a triumphant return last fall in hopes of executing an uninterrupted schedule, but the Omicron variant resulted in several postponements over the winter.

Those shows were rescheduled for the spring, wrapping up last weekend with a tribute to Pink Floyd.

“I don’t think the season has ever gone into June,” noted Gerrard. “Normally we’re not asking people to spend their beautiful Saskatchewan summer days indoors at a concert because we realize the summer is short. But it also taught us a lot of things about how flexible we can be.”

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While navigating a volatile COVID environment, RSO initially chose to maintain its requirement for masks and proof of vaccination, even after the province dropped its restrictions.

That decision presumably had an impact on attendance.

However, according to Gerrard, there were a “far greater” number of people who supported the decision compared to those who complained.

“In the end I feel we made the right call,” said Gerrard, who noted that RSO dropped its vaccine mandate for Pink Floyd but still required masks. “It’s an ever-evolving thing. There is no (final) decision for the fall. Obviously a lot of things can happen. As we’ve learned over the last two years, things change very quickly. We’re still trying to evaluate what makes our musicians feel the most safe and of course what makes our audience feel the most safe.”

With next year’s schedule already complete, full subscriptions and single-concert tickets are now on sale.

The RSO plans to utilizes multiple venues for its slate of 25-plus shows in 2022-23, including the Conexus Arts Centre for the Classic Series and the Pops Series. The Family Series is at University Theatre while a Christmas performance (Handel’s Messiah) is slated for Dec. 17 at the Knox-Metropolitan United Church. There’s also a Baroque Series and a Classic Series at Holy Rosary Cathedral, plus a Chamber Series at Government House, along with a free library series.

The Classic season opens Sept. 24 with Beethoven No. 5, featuring “the most famous four notes in all of music.” RSO is also performing Brahms Requiem — “one of the biggest choral masterpieces of all time” — on April 15 along with a Pops Christmas special featuring the orchestral debut of Saskatchewan singer-songwriter Megan Nash on Dec. 10.

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Meanwhile, a highlight of the Family Series is Gloria’s Cabinet of Curiosities, a circus show on April 16th featuring former Cirque du Soleil clown Mooky McGuinty.

“It’s going to be super fun and probably pretty wacky,” Gerrard said, “so I’m looking forward to that as well.”

The season concludes with the Forward Currents Festival from June 2 to 4 (venue TBD). This year’s theme is a celebration of Black artists.

More information and ticket options for all shows can be found at reginasymphony.com.

“It’s fun to start with a blank canvas,” Gerrard said of the upcoming season. “I always have my ear to the ground for things that are new and different and things that might be a good fit for Regina and our orchestra. It’s fun to juggle all those things and put them together.

“There’s lots of great stuff.”

gharder@postmedia.com

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